The video game industry’s “myth of the indie” is one that has somehow persisted, albeit in increasingly-transparent form, for close to two decades now. Particularly since the release of “Cave Story” in 2004 and “Indie Game: The Movie” in 2012, the story of unheard-of creators working for years on one giant gamble of a project has become a dangerously inspirational tale.
“Cave Story,” “Braid,” “Fez,” “Owlboy” and “Cuphead” are all textbook examples of this, and all took continuous painstaking effort for the better part of a decade to get made. These games are exceptions to both the rule and basic sense in terms of production time, and demonstrate completely impractical development methods somehow resulting in an actual finished product. Critically, they all work — and “Iconoclasts,” a game by Joakim “Konjak” Sandberg made over the course of seven years, is no exception.
“Iconoclasts” takes the form of a 10-hour pseudo-Metroidvania, with a structure akin to a mashup of “Monster World IV” and “Gunstar Heroes.” Instead of one sprawling world, there are dungeon-and-town-like areas you often travel through twice, interspersed with set pieces, dialogues and boss fights. Along with the brilliant “Tweaks” system, which replaces standard character upgrades with craftable bonus abilities, this setup allows a compelling completionist experience and a pell-mell action approach to peaceably coexist.
“Iconoclasts” thrives on running the player through a heavily-refined, mirror-shiny rollercoaster of sheer varied substance, using its momentum and the slick turning of its cogs to keep them going. Most games draw themselves out through a kit of repetitive methods, but “Iconoclasts” never wastes the player’s time. Painstaking care went into every minuscule detail of the game. Cutscenes are rife with expressive animations, a good deal of which are only played once. This is a game that I took a gigabyte of screenshots and 30-second Switch video captures of while playing. The soundtrack fits every moment with compelling riffs and arrangements. The storyline is a tonal seismograph where sarcastic quippy exchanges and dramatic deaths are placed minutes apart, yet somehow it still manages to uphold both extremes while speaking with applicable recurring themes. Small sequences like the stealth sections, the minimalist boss near the end, and the elevator minigame are way more intuitive and memorable than they have any right to be.
Side-quests even go so far as to form shaggy-dog stories and occasionally land in almost depressing tonal territory. The Usurper Gun, a mid-game weapon that switches your position with its target’s, is way more fun than it deserves to be, and even minuscule details like the carefree fun of using the wrench or the hilarious little doop-doop-doop of protagonist Robin’s walk are just plain fun in a borderline subliminal way.
Games discourse has endlessly gone on and on and on about how powerful polish can be, and “Iconoclasts” is of that scarce game that puts polish front and center, applying it universally, to great effect. I’m not one for extreme perfectionism, but when a game shows rumblings of “Drawn to Life: The Next Chapter” influence in multiple aspects without buckling into imitation, manages to bottle that same stormtroopers-as-mascots lightning not once but twice, and single-handedly rejects all the quote-unquote good sense its influences overpopularized to chase ecstatically impractical passion instead, I think it’s earned its keep by modern video game industry reflectance standards.
“Iconoclasts” kept me invested in its every aspect and made immaculate use of its runtime. With it, Konjak has definitively made his mark, and from me, it gets a triple-approval. Was it worth years of work? Yes. Does it deserve its acclaim and success? Yes. Is it worth $20? Yes.
Gaget is a student in Fairbanks public schools, and has developed a number of free games. He is a neutral game reviewer. The Switch version of Iconoclasts was used for this review.
If You Play
Platform: PC, Mac, Linux, PS Vita, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Internet Usage (accounts for download size): 500 MB
ESRB Rating: T
Release Date: 1/22/18
Genre (if applicable): Pseudo-Metroidvania/Platform-Shooter
Developer: Joakim “Konjak” Sandberg